The Yale School of Public Health recognized its students’ artistic ingenuity with a schoolwide video awards show that featured big prizes and big fun while raising awareness of important public health issues during National Public Health Week.
The school’s Winslow Auditorium was transformed into an Oscars-like setting on April 2, complete with a plush red carpet, glittering selfie station, catered food and even popcorn vendors.
Twelves videos in the form of short public service announcements were in contention for the $2,500 top prize in the inaugural Roger Barnett Public Health Video Challenge, also known as the Winnies. The challenge was made possible by a donation from Barnett, an alumnus of Yale College and the Yale Law School.
“Last year, I shared with Roger my goal of having students learn how powerful communications and media can be in promoting good public health practice,” said Yale School of Public Health Dean Sten H. Vermund, who served as the master of ceremonies. “In response, he offered funding for this competition in hopes that these videos will help raise awareness of the incredible work by our students and faculty here at YSPH.”
Entries were evaluated on originality, the way the science was presented, how well the chosen topic was explained, how well the video engaged viewers and overall production quality.
The panel of judges was comprised of television producer and pediatrician Dr. Neal Baer (ER, Law & Order: SVU); four alumni: Emmy-nominated ABC television producer and YSPH alumna Susan Schwartz, M.P.H. ’80; health communications video producer Linda Bergonzi-King, M.P.H. ’90; YSPH lecturer Jonathan Smith, M.P.H. 11; Scott Rosenstein, M.P.H. ’04, MA ‘04; and several YSPH faculty and staff.
The $2,500 top prize went to Saskia Comess, M.P.H. ’19, for her video “What About the Air We Breathe?” highlighting the global public health threat presented by fine particulate matter in toxic air. Comess took an edgy Bill Nye the Science Guy approach to her video that was both informative and entertaining.
"I’m very happy to have won,” Comess, an environmental health sciences student, said later as she cradled her award— a book-sized wire sculpture of a movie camera— that served as the official “Winnie,” the school's version of the Oscar named after Yale School of Public Health founder Charles-Edward Amory Winslow. “It was really fun putting the video together. … I’m just really happy to make people laugh and to have it be educational about a subject that is so important to public health.”
This year’s top winner was announced via video by actress Sara Gilbert, a two-time Emmy Award nominee known for her role as Darlene Conner on the ABC sitcom Roseanne and for her role as co-host of the CBS daytime talk show The Talk. She also has a recurring role as Leslie Winkle on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory.
“Congratulations to the Yale School of Public Health students for bringing attention to these important public health topics with your videos,” Gilbert said from the set of The Talk. “I admire your passion in pursuing such an important career path to ensure public health equity in the world.”
The $1,500 second place prize went to Kelsie Cassell, Ph.D. ’22, Department of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, and Victoria Harries, Ph.D. ’24, Department of Anthropology, who teamed up to produce an animated short about antimicrobial resistance. Cassell and Harries said that they used animation to make the science easier to understand.
While it was a first time effort for both, Cassell said she could see the value in presenting difficult science information to the public via the video format. “I think it has great potential,” she said.
Harries and Cassell said they felt lucky to be among the prize winners given the strength and creativity of all of the videos entered into the contest. The second place prize was announced by Baer via a video message.
Sacha Hauc, M.P.H., ’20, took the $500 third place prize for his video focusing on mental health and suicide awareness. A stark, black and white short stressing the importance of breathing to maintain emotional balance, the video featured close-ups of different individuals taking a slow, deep breath interspersed with key statistics and important mental health messages.
“I wanted to show that mental health is something everyone experiences to some degree and it shouldn’t be stigmatized,” Hauc said.
The fourth place $250 award was given to Akshatha Kiran, M.P.H. ’20, who produced a video on cultural competency after reading an assignment on the subject in a social sciences class. Kiran, a student in the Department of Health Policy and Management, said she was eager to feature an important aspect of public healthcare that doesn’t get as much attention as disease research or other subjects in the field.